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Ballpark estimates are nonsense

March 4, 2015
By Larry DeHays , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The man on the phone was adamant. He wanted to know the cost to replace the radiator in his car. "Just a ball park estimate, that's all I want," he says. "I won't hold you to it!"

Ballpark estimates are what we give when we don't know what's necessary. Once we know the details, we can give accurate estimates. If someone insists, as this man did, the results are usually troublesome. For instance:

n First I have to know the exact year, make and model of the car. I have to know if the car has air conditioning, because that requires a larger radiator.

The phone rings, a lady wants to know the cost of replacing a big hose of some kind on her daughter's car, because it's leaking and her daughter has to drive back to Indiana tomorrow. Just a ball park estimate. You know. I take her name and number and tell her I'll call her back in a few minutes. Back to the radiator job, I have to know if it has an automatic transmission because if so, it would have a transmission cooler built into the radiator. I have to know if the car uses an engine oil cooler which would be built into the radiator. Once these things have been determined, in this case over the phone by asking the owner, I continue.

The phone rings. A man wants to know what we would charge to put brakes on his car. He has already bought his own pads. I tell him I'll get back to him shortly. I spend a long time on line and on the phone with local parts houses to research the costs and selling prices of various brands of radiators which are available. Then I research the flat rate labor for replacing the radiator. I include the cost of some replacement hose clamps and new antifreeze.

The phone rings. A man wants to know what we charge to patch a tire and proceeds to tell me the exact way he wants it patched. I finally manage to interrupt him to tell him we don't do tire repairs. He will need a tire shop. He seems miffed that I wasted his time. I call the radiator man back with my estimate. He says it sounds high because he has priced them on line, but he makes an appointment to bring it in. I call the lady with the daughter who has a leaking mystery hose, and she doesn't know which hose it is, but insists on an estimate for any hose it might be.

The phone rings. A lady wants to know what we charge to fix an engine oil leak. Just a ball park estimate. I try to explain that there are dozens of places that oil can leak from, she wants a ball park estimate for any of them. I say I'll call her back. I give the hose lady an estimate for the top radiator hose and one for the lower radiator hose. She wants to know what else it could be. I say we'll have to check it out. She makes an appointment. I call the brake man back with a labor-only estimate. He makes an appointment. I call the oil leak lady, and make an appointment to locate her leak at no charge.

Radiator guy shows up. His problem is a leaky top hose at the radiator fitting. His radiator is fine. Estimating time and effort was wasted. Hose lady comes in, her leak is in the radiator, not a hose. She's angry because it will cost more than my ballpark estimate for hoses. Brake guy makes it in, brakes grinding like crazy. His rotors are ground down to nubs. They need to be replaced. He refuses, wants only the pads put on. I refuse the job. Too much liability involved in turning out a faulty brake job. He goes away mad. I don't care. Oil leak lady comes in. Her oil leak is actually a power steering leak, not engine oil. An accurate estimate is prepared and the job done. She's not happy of course, but at least she's not mad about a faulty ballpark estimate.

Phone rings. Guy wants to know what we would charge to change two of his oxygen sensors because a parts house clerk told him they were bad. I ask him which two out of the four he wanted changed. He didn't know. Just wanted ball park estimates for any of them.

Phone rings. Lady wants to know what we charge to do a job that was diagnosed by somebody else. Just ballpark. Can we check it out first? No, she wants a ballpark estimate first.

It's got to be five o'clock somewhere.

-- Larry DeHays is the author of the book "The Car Care World", a compilation of his most popular columns. It is available now through Amazon, Barnes and Noble,, or at the DeHays Automotive office, at Fort Myers Beach. He has been an ASE Certified Technician for 37 years and an arbitrator for the Florida Lemon Law for 16 years. For more information go to or



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